Hundreds of Native Hawaiians protest land appeal

By Mark Niesse
Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) 12-08

Hundreds of Native Hawaiians protested during November against the state selling out lands they believe should be their inheritance.

The red-shirted Hawaiians blew conch shells, waved signs and cheered at the Hawaii Capitol to rally against the state of Hawaii’s appeal of a court ruling that bars the government from tampering with former Hawaiian monarchy lands.

“You cannot sell our lands,” said Hawaiian activist Vicky Holt Takamine at the demonstration. “We are not going to allow them to take our ceded lands for their own selfish purposes.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a unanimous decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court last January that the state can’t sell or exchange land once owned by the Hawaiian kingdom until the claims of Native Hawaiians are resolved.

These 1.2 million acres make up nearly one-third of the state and comprise almost all state-owned lands, including public schools, airports and affordable housing.

Gov. Linda Lingle said Nov. 24 she will not drop the case despite the demands of the Hawaiians.

“Anyone who characterizes our taking this case to the Supreme Court as somehow being against Hawaiian rights is simply misrepresenting the situation,” Lingle said. “These lands were clearly for the benefit of all the people of the state, including the Native Hawaiian community.”

Native Hawaiians worry that the case could have unintended consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to use it to end preferential government programs for Hawaiians such as low-cost homes and low-interest loans.

It also could derail pending federal legislation that would give Hawaiians autonomy rights similar to those provided American Indians, and perhaps hand over some of these lands to them.

But Lingle argues the state has a right to handle its property for the benefit of all residents, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian alike.

The protesters waved signs saying “Moratorium now! Preserve our lands!” and “Hawaii is a sovereign nation occupied by America.” They chanted “impeach Lingle, impeach Lingle” and wore shirts saying, “Justice for Hawaiians.”

“These are stolen lands, we’re clear on that,” said Native Hawaiian practitioner Andre Perez in his speech to the crowd. “I want my land back. I want my country back.”

The underlying lawsuit started in 1994 when the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and four individuals sought to force the state to retain the lands until native claims were settled. At the time, the state was planning to sell about 1,500 acres on Maui and the Big Island.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruling was based on the 1993 Apology Resolution, in which Congress acknowledged wrongdoing for the federal government’s participation in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and recognized the inherent sovereignty of Indigenous islanders over their land.

Twenty-nine states have sided with Hawaii in a friend-of-the-court brief, which contends that the Apology Resolution was symbolic and thus has no bearing on how Hawaii determines the future of the lands.

Oral arguments will likely be heard in February or March, with a decision expected by June.

“The Apology Resolution, while important, was an apology. It did not change the legal rights of the state of Hawaii,” said Attorney General Mark Bennett.

Kupuaina Coalition: